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Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion) (4K UHD Review)

REVIEW OVERVIEW

The Film
The Video (Overall)
HDR Effect
The Audio
The Supplements
Overall

SUMMARY

During a picnic at the famous Hanging Rock volcanic formation, a group of Australian schoolgirls and one of their teachers go missing causing an uproar in their town and disaster for their upper crust boarding school.

Estimated reading time: 11 minutes

Picnic at Hanging Rock is Peter Weir’s haunting, evocative, and elegiac mystery-drama set in 1900 Australia. A drama examining British colonialism and the juxtaposition of British society with the wild, untamed land of Australia, with the undertone of the brutality imposed on the indigenous population. Darragh O’Donoghue said, “It seems the anguish of pretty white girls in pretty white frocks was considered more palatable for international consumption than the representation of a violently marginalised civilization.”

With that in mind, the film indirectly takes on the Aboriginal sublimation by the Brits through its visualizations of rough, empty terrain, the various sights of nature, or a flock of birds drifting overhead like the spirits of those crushed who have risen.

After we are introduced to a group of girls in their classes at the Appleyard College in the stuffy, too British to be where they are, classrooms and fussy school uniforms under the strict eye of headmistress Mrs. Appelyard (Rachel Roberts), we get the signature opening scenes. It is juxtaposition of those “pretty girls in white frocks” against the dangerous, ominous, jagged cliffs of Hanging Rock. After the schoolgirls are taken on a picnic to Hanging Rock, a place where the ancient presence is immediately felt, a group of the girls, led by Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert) decide to go explore some of the caves they have discovered. It ends with three of the girls going missing and they never reappear.

The disappearance of the schoolgirls sends the small town, Appleyard College with its oddly verdant, meticulously kept sprawling lawn and English manor-style building at its center, into an uproar. Some, including a young Englishman (Dominic Guard), decide to launch their own search for the girls. Meanwhile, Appleyard College goes into a tailspin caused by the disappearance. Financially, they begin to bleed as parents pull their children from enrollment, and the headmistress goes from strict and by-the-rules to a descent into near madness.

Weir infuses the film with a sense of mystery and supernatural mystique using visuals and the atmospheric, often uncanny score with breathy pan flutes and the sound effects of a slowed-down earthquake which rumbles almost unnoticeably.  Of the many films that emerged from Australia in this era, Picnic at Hanging Rock is arguably the finest work of pure art and it still commands attention.

Purchase Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion Collection) on Amazon.com

  • Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Karen Robson in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Dominic Guard in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Anne-Louise Lambert, Karen Robson, and Jane Vallis in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Anne-Louise Lambert, Karen Robson, Christine Schuler, and Jane Vallis in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Margaret Nelson in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  • Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Anne-Louise Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). Courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
  • Picnic at Hanging Rock 4K Ultra HD Combo (Criterion Collection)

The Video

This is a 4K scan and restoration from the original camera negative supervised and approved by director Peter Weir and director of photography Russell Boyd. The restoration was undertaken by Wojtek Janio at The Grainery and Fixafilm Poland. Comparing this to the Second Sight 4K release from the UK, there is very little difference, but the Second Sight release does seem to have a very slightly more pleasing grain resolution while the Criterion grain is a touch harsher. That is only looking at them in comparison. One would never notice this subtlety watching them in isolation, and this release is reference as well. Like the Second Sight, the image is clean, and the granularity is thinly layered and natural. The soft, diffuse appearance of this film does not always lend itself to the crispest of details and there are a few places where faces look just a tad smooth, but it is all made up for with the extended depth of field and clarity that comes with this transfer. The colors glow with a sepia tone in the bright, outdoors scenes, aided by the HDR10 color coding which expands the gradations and nuance in many of the shades. The image is not necessarily very bright, but the HDR looks natural, with the warm glow of lamps and in dark scenes, some brighter specular highlight ‘pop’ in lights.

The Audio

The 5.1 mix is for Picnic at Hanging Rock was created from the original 35mm original magnetic tracks by Phil Heywood at Atlab in Sydney under the supervision of Peter Weir. The atmospheric mix is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. The main sound is across the front channels, but there is a lot of ambience and atmosphere in the surround channels. The low frequencies, while not bombastic, are quite beefy and do well to carry that low, subtly rumbling slowed-down earthquake sound effect that permeates the score.

The Supplements

Criterion packs this set with some interesting featurettes and interviews, plus a 1.78:1 framed version of the film on Blu-ray. Much of the bonus features are previously available or archival, but they are still worth going through.

Bonus Features:

  • Fully Restored Blu-ray featuring film framed at 1.78:1 in 1080p
  • David Thomson Introduction (1080p; 00:09:30) – Recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2014, film scholar David Thomson introduces Picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • Peter Weir (1080i; 00:25:00) – In this 2003 interview, director Peter Weir discusses the production and enduring mystery of Picnic at Hanging Rock.
  • Everything Begins and Ends (1080i; 00:30:24) – This documentary, produced by the Criterion Collection in 2014, features interviews with producers Hal and Jim McElroy, executive producer Patricia Lovell, cinematographer Russell Boyd, and actors Helen Morse and Anne Louise Lambert. The interviews were conducted in 2003.
  • A Recollection…Hanging Rock 1900 (1080i; 00:26:13) – this 1975 on-set documentary by Picnic at Hanging Rock executive producer Patricia Lovell features interviews with source novel author Joan Lindsay, director Peter Weir, and cast members Rachel Roberts and Dominic Guard.
  • Homesdale (1080p; 00:49:52) – Peter Weir’s 1971 film Homesdale inspired executive producer Patricia Lovell to approach him about directing Picnic at Hanging Rock. The film, presented here, is a black comedy that was shot at Weir’s home in Sydney. It won the Grand Prix ay the 1971 Australian Film Industry Awards.
  • Trailer (1080i; 00:04:35)
  • Booklet: Essay, “What We See and What We Seem” by author Megan Abott, excerpt from the 1996 book Peter Weir: When Cultures Collide, by film scholar Marek Haltof, production stills, credits, and information on the transfer.

The Final Assessment

A masterpiece of arthouse, drama, mystery, with elements of horror and the supernatural, this enduring film from Peter Weir belongs in every serious cineaste’s library. This release from Criterion Collection is a gorgeous release that provides both the director’s preferred aspect ratio on 4K of 1.66:1 and a newly restored version on Blu-ray in 1.78:1. Highly recommended, although if you already have the UK release from Second Sight, which also has the extended cut, this release will not necessarily offer much to you.  If you do not own this on 4K already, then definitely pick this up.


Picnic at Hanging Rock is out on 4K Ultra HD Combo April 9, 2024, from Criterion Collection.

Purchase Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion Collection) on Amazon.com


  • Studios & Distributors: British Empire Films Australia | The South Australian Film Corporation | The Australian Film Commission | McElroy & McElroy | Picnic Productions Pty. Ltd. | The Criterion Collection
  • Director: Peter Weir
  • Written By: Joan Lindsay | Cliff Green
  • Run Time: 107 Mins.
  • Street Date: 9 April 2024
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 | 1.78:1 (Blu-ray)
  • Video Format: HEVC 2160p (4K UHD)
  • HDR Format: HDR10
  • HDR10 Metadata:
    • MaxLL: 2401 nits
    • MaxFALL: 235 nits
    • Max. Luminance: 1000 nits
    • Min. Luminance: 0.0001 nits
  • Primary Audio: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
  • Subtitles: English SDH
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During a picnic at the famous Hanging Rock volcanic formation, a group of Australian schoolgirls and one of their teachers go missing causing an uproar in their town and disaster for their upper crust boarding school. Picnic at Hanging Rock (Criterion) (4K UHD Review)